Bharti Airtel, India’s largest telecom service provider, is in advanced stages to set up a digital innovation lab in Bengaluru to work on emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality as part of its broader strategy to develop strong in-house technology capabilities.
The telco, which is currently transforming itself into a major digital operator in India, has identified these technologies as a big focus area, and will establish the lab under its digital innovation project — Project Next – for which it will invest Rs 2,000 crore over three years to bring digital solutions to the market.
The digital lab project is being spearheaded by Harmeen Mehta, Airtel’s Global Chief Information Officer. “She has made multiple trips to Bengaluru along with senior management members of Airtel to finalise details of the project… IoT, AI, AR/VR that will become a major play for Airtel with the arrival of 5G in a couple of years,” a company official told ET.
The Sunil Mittal-led telco has already established a large in-house engineering and development team of about 550 people that are focused on rolling out digital platforms. The new digital lab will house 150-odd tech specialists.
“Hiring has already begun for the project and Airtel has specifically chosen Bengaluru to dip into the large talent pool in India’s IT capital. It is also looking at some of India’s top engineering colleges to get talent on board and may even tap talent from the Silicon Valley,” another company official aware of the matter said.
The first official said that Bharti Airtel is also looking to collaborate with tech start-ups to share learnings from the lab and co-create solutions.
The official said that AI technology is already being used within Airtel for doing a lot of mining to provide better customer experience. Äirtel is also using it in certain applications that help resolve problems.
“We are bringing the AI technology first in the call centres to really help them to resolve customer issues by bringing predictability. With this, they’ll know the problem before the customers start to face it. In addition, there will be a lot of applications,” the official said.
Bharti Airtel is planning to enter the home automation or smart home segment with its IoT and machine-to-machine solutions in a move aimed at expanding its revenue base.
The new lab will help the telco to develop and identify new use cases around IoT. Airtel’s 4G rival Reliance Jio Infocomm is also gearing up to harness Internet of Things (IoT), focusing first on enterprises and industries while initiating talks with car manufacturers and consumer durable companies as well, among others, for the consumer segment.
“The emergence of IoT will drive data uptake…With house and cars getting connected, and everything getting automated… IoT will be the major data driver,” Mehta had previously said.
Airtel is already providing an e-challan solution through its enterprise arm to several state governments. It also works with electricity boards through its smart meters, besides managing traffic lights in Telangana.
(The reporter is in Barcelona to cover the Mobile World Congress at the invitation of Qualcomm)